Darlington Drinker 173


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Darlington Drinker 173

Newsletter of the Darlington Campaign for Real Ale - Feb/March 2009


Beer Prices: the Facts

THE JD WETHERSPOON pub chain stirred up a hornet’s nest when it announced in January it was cutting the price of Greene King IPA to 99p a pint. And the ire wasn’t confined to anti-alcohol campaigners.

Tony Payne, chief executive of the Licensed Victuallers Association, criticised the move: “It does the trade no good at all, especially when we have problems with the supermarkets. It’s leaving us open to attack from the health lobby”. Many fear the loss-leading cut, which Greene King themselves had been unaware of, will encourage the Government to pile ever more tax on the beer.

But lobbyists like Alcohol Concern and the British Medial Association hardly need the gift of such a one-off promotion. Their ilk regularly claim that alcohol prices are reducing in real terms and must be hiked to save the nation. What the Government, Alcohol Concern and the rest fail to do is distinguish between prices in pubs and those in shops and supermarkets. The result: moderate drinkers in the highly-regulated - and usually expensive - social environment of pubs being criticised and penalised for the sins of home and street corner consumers.

The truth, as any pub-goer knows, is that while the shelves of Tesco, Morrisons, Spar and the rest are piled high with cheap booze, beer prices in pubs have been racing ahead of inflation for years. Darlington CAMRA has been monitoring real ale prices in this area since the 1980s, in probably the most comprehensive and continuous such survey in Britain. So let’s look at the facts - real facts.

Fact: during 2008 a pub pint increased by more than double the rate of inflation (see p3). Fact: between 1998 and 2008 the price rose even faster, by 2½ times average inflation. Fact: between 1987-98 beer increased 60% faster than inflation.

Will the critics and Government face the facts? Don’t bank on it.


Prices: Up and Away

THE PRICE of a pub pint in our area increased by more than double the rate of inflation in 2008, according to the latest Darlington CAMRA survey.

The Darlington branch of CAMRA has been monitoring the price of real ale since the mid-80s. Pub drinkers have become accustomed to over-the-odds increases for years, unlike supermarket shoppers who can buy subsidised lager cheaper than water. And 2008 was true to form. A pint of real ale in Darlington and its surrounding area went up by 15 pence, or 6.8% during 2008. A year when the official inflation rate (CPI) was 3.1%. That made the average price £2.43 by December compared with £2.27p twelve months earlier.

Other Findings:

*The survey, carried out by volunteers (see p15), was the branch’s most comprehensive ever. It took in 142 prices in 46 pubs, spread evenly between town and country. In all, 91 different brands of cask beer were represented.

*Country pubs generally charged more than Darlington town pubs: £2.55 against £2.33.

*Guest beers on average also cost more than regularly-stocked ‘house’ beers: £2.48 a pint against £2.36.

*The cheapest pint was Samuel Smith’s OBB at the Glittering Star, Darlington at £1.41, up nine pence (6.8%) in the year. A huge rise by Sam’s standards; it had only gone up by a total of 10p in the previous seven years. The next cheapest, Greene King IPA at Wetherspoons’ William Stead and Tanners Hall, was 159p.

*Dearest in town were the £2.95 guest beers - Pedigree and Theakston Bitter respectively - at Darlington Council’s Arts Centre and Stressholme golf centre . Out of town, though, the plush Redworth Hall hotel was asking £3.70 for a pint of Black Sheep Bitter!

*The most commonly-found brews were Black Sheep Best Bitter and John Smith's Magnet in twelve survey pubs each; they averaged respectively £2.62 (distorted by the Redworth price) and £2.21 a pint.

*The Budget was responsible for upwards of 4p, plus VAT, of the rises, increasing with the strength of a beer.

*Some pubs started 2008 by hiking prices a further 10 pence.


Darlington Drinker

.…Twenty-Five Years Ago

“NO NEWS yet of when and where ‘real’, cask-conditioned John Smith's Bitter will be re-appearing in this area, after its nine-year absence. We asked for details from Smith’s Darlington area office two months ago and ‘in view of the importance of the matter’ our request was passed on to Tadcaster HQ. Since then - nothing. What we do know is that a traditional version of the stronger Magnet ‘may follow but not at this stage’. Watch this space.

Darlington Drinker 22, February 1984


Spring’s the Thing

IT’S A SURE THING: Spring will be early this year. Whatever the calendar says, Darlington Arts Centre will be full of the proverbial joys a good week before the vernal equinox.

And real ale drinkers and folk fans can rejoice at the thought because that means it’s time for the town’s 23rd annual Spring Thing festival. And, of course, CAMRA’s festival within the festival. Fifty great ales from brilliant, imaginative small breweries will be available from the outset, including many special festival brews, along with six farmhouse ciders, a rare perry (pear cider) and classic continental bottled beers.

One intriguing new ale already confirmed is a 5% bitter from Darwin brewery of Sunderland, which is being brewed with “malt, hops and yeast relevant to Charles Darwin” as part of the national Darwin 200 celebration programme. As ever, a wide range of British beer styles will be represented, from traditional milds, bitters, stouts and strong beers to modern gold, wheat and fruit ales.

There will be limited edition commemorative glasses (both pints and halves for the first time), an unmissable CAMRA membership offer and - undoubtedly - impromptu sword dancing on the Saturday afternoon, in the very midst of the admiring throng!

Best of all, there will be no admission charge to the beery side of the Spring Thing and it will be open to everyone, not just visitors to the folk festival. Folk events get underway on 11 March; the ale festival taps start pouring on Thursday 12th at 7pm sharp. Be there, whether the weather’s Spring-like or not.


A Bottle of Note

Ushers BottleWhen young stonemason Joe Kipling found a 102-year old message in a bottle during renovation work at Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle he sparked a wave of press interest in the note secreted by the early curator, Owen Stanley Scott.

Naturally Darlington Drinker was more interested in the bottle - it was a beer bottle. Where was it from?

Mr Scott left the bottle, pictured left, in April 1906 in a chimney which was being blocked up. In the note he wondered if the flue will ever be reopened. Sadly he didn’t say anything about the beer he had (presumably) just supped. The bottle is green, slender and unembossed; its metal cap corroded and unreadable. But although ragged, the label - black and white with some yellow infill - reveals it originally contained ‘Usher’s Extra Hopped Beer’.

The museum guessed this referred to Usher’s brewery of Trowbridge, Wiltshire (1824-2000), who also brewed in London from 1890 until the last war.  Then they heard of another Usher’s - Thomas Usher & Son Ltd - who brewed in Edinburgh.

And then we told Bowes press officer Sheila Dixon of yet another possibility, as a J & T Usher Ltd opened a brewery in Bristol in 1901. Our money is on Mr Scott’s tipple coming from the Scots house of Usher. It was the nearest of the four breweries, and is known to have traded heavily in North East England. (So much so it was acquired by Vaux in 1959).

And there’s another helpful clue: the torn label said the beer was bottled by ‘...isset & Co’. The partly-missing first letter seems to be a ‘B’. Our research shows that John Bisset & Co. Ltd were bonders and bottlers of whisky and beer in Aberdeen and Leith. Leith is just three miles from the site of Usher’s Park Brewery (which was cleared for housing in the 1980s).

It’s not clear why Usher’s would want another company to bottle their beer, but perhaps Bisset handled their bottled export trade, including to England?

If any readers can help confirm the correct brewery - perhaps you’ve seen the label design before - let us know and we’ll pass the details on to the museum. It could quench the thirst for knowledge at the Bowes just a little bit more.

*THE bottle and note are/were on display in The Bowes Museum’s Streatlam Galleries until 13 February. The full museum will reopen thereafter following its transformation; details of events and exhibitions on www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk or 01833 690606. Photo of the bottle courtesy of the Bowes Museum.


Happy Hammers

DARLINGTON CAMRA’s Winter Pub of the Season has been selected by branch members. And it’s the Hammers - Sunday name the Blacksmith’s Arms - at Preston-le-Skerne that has struck gold.

The secluded free house, tucked away off on the back road between Newton Aycliffe and Great Stainton, pipped the George & Dragon in Heighington village to the award. The Hammers is the only pub we know of that has a helipad. More pertinently to discerning drinkers, it has two or three ever changing guest real ales on offer from independent breweries.

A presentation to Hammers’ licensees Beverley Hayman and Brenda Whear, who took over the pub in 2004, was made by CAMRA pubs officer Pete Fenwick in January. The ales on the day came from High House Farm, Consett Ale Works and Yorkshire Dales.

*THE seasonal champions are chosen from the four parts of the branch area in turn. The Hammers was chosen from County Durham (excluding Darlington town and Teesdale). Next up for Spring is ‘our’ bit of North Yorkshire.  


Attila the Winner

ATTILA, from Peterborough’s Oakham brewery, has been crowned supreme champion winter beer of Britain 2009 by judges at the National Winter Ales Festival.

The 7.5% abv barley wine is described as having 'fruity notes and an elderflower aroma, with the taste of ripe berries and citrus fruit and a long bitter fruity finish.'

Festival organiser Graham Donning called it a spectacular beer, “a wonderful example of this rare beer style”. John Bryan, head brewer at Oakham, was delighted: “Each batch takes around five-six months to produce and this shows it’s time well-spent”.

The silver medal went to Elland brewery’s 1872 Porter, with bronze to Sarah Hughes’s Dark Ruby. Theakston’s Old Peculier from Masham won bronze in the Old Ales & Strong Milds category.


Community Service

THE BRIDGE Inn at Middleton-in-Teesdale became a true community pub at Christmas when it was taken over its customers.

The not-for-profit Bridge Inn Trust was set up with social enterprise funding. It is led by director and “social entrepreneur” Chris Jones, who is behind a similar venture at the Grey Bull at Stanhope in Weardale. Chris promises “This will be a community pub in every sense of the word.

“The surplus we make will be ploughed into good causes in the area. Country pubs are going under all the time. They are a very precious part of the community and the Bridge is no different - it was the last traditional pub left in the village.” The trust is encouraging groups to use the pub as a venue for meetings, classes and functions, and its menu will be largely based local produce.

It intends to offer an ever-changing choice of cask ales, with handpulled Ruddles County being a mainstay. (Perhaps local beers can be stocked too, Chris? - Ed) The Bridge opens from 2pm daily.

QUITE HOW the Bridge Inn became the last traditional pub in Middleton (if you exclude the lounge bar at the Teesdale Hotel) is interesting. Especially given the size of Middleton - which borders on being a small town, and has a good flow of tourists. And the fact that it had three other pubs little more than a decade ago.  

The Talbot was closed, in the face of protests from regulars, by its owners Teesdale Traditional Taverns in 1997 on the grounds that Middleton couldn’t support so many pubs. In the same year, the Romaldkirk based company amalgamated the King's Head in the Market Place with the adjacent Foresters. The pub traded under the latter name until Spring 2007 when the lessees left in a hurry. TTT's chief executive Hugh Becker said it "would reopen as soon as possible".

The freehold of the Bridge too was in the hands of Teesdale Traditional Taverns when the last tenants were in place. As the group is known to have resisted previous offers to buy its pubs it perhaps still does own the freehold, with the lease taken by the Trust.

One of the main controls TTT exercises over its pubs is the range of beers that can be stocked, from which it draws an income.


Club Wins on Cue

THE NORTH EAST’S Real Ale Club of the Year celebrated its success in style - by serving its 1,000th different cask beer for just a pound a pint.

Customers naturally ‘queued’ up at the bar of Darlington Snooker Club to toast the fifth consecutive such title for the family-run business. Peter Everett, who has run the club with his mother, Rita, and ever-helpful relatives and friends since 1999, was “dead chuffed” to win the CAMRA award in what, he said, had been in other ways a horrible year.

As regular readers will know, the first floor premises are leased from motor bike shop boss Derek White. He has planning permission to convert the club into flats and planned to do so at the break-point in Peter’s lease, next December. Peter is determined to keep going for as long as possible and is not giving up hope of a change of heart by his landlord, not least because of the collapse of the housing market.

The property, on the corner of Northgate and Corporation Road, was custom-built as a billiards hall in 1915. The club has ten full-size snooker tables and regularly hosts top name players like multi world champion (and real ale fan) Steve Davis.

It was named North East CAMRA Club of the Year not only for stocking up to four guest ales but because it is an “excellent community facility”.


Lancastrians Take York

YORK BREWERY has been taken over by Lancastrians in an amicable war of the roses.

Mitchells Hotels & Inns made the acquisition “for an undisclosed sum” nine years after closing their own brewery in Lancaster. Jonathan Barker, joint managing director with his brother Andrew of Mitchells, confirmed that brewing will continue: “It takes us back to our roots - our great, great-grandfather started brewing in 1865”.

York’s Tony Thomson said he began searching for new investors last summer. “We’ve put in 12 years of hard work to develop York Brewery and we feel we’ve taken it as far as we can go.” Mitchells gets York’s brewery and four pubs, three in York and one in Leeds. Tony Thomson will remain as a non-executive director.

York’s beers will go on sale in many of Mitchell’s 60 pubs and continue to be available in the free trade. “It’s business as usual,” said Jonathan Barker.


Thirst for Knowledge

I WAS ASKED by the editor (the guv) in December to visit pubs in our area to help with the annual real ale prices survey, writes Malcolm Dunstone. I had to accept the challenge…

First visit turned out to be my most expensive. The Bay Horse, Hurworth prices everything at £2.90, be it North Yorks Best at 3.6% or Wensleydale Coverdale at 5%. At the Otter & Fish in the village both beers were £2.80. Then while I was supping the Pedigree I was told, no, it’s £2.70 for December and given 10p more change.

Friday was the branch coach crawl, so a chance to record prices from six pubs in the rural parts north of Darlo. I tasted some new beers that night: Marston’s Blazing Ale, Jenning’s World’s Biggest Liar and Caledonian Elf Esteem. The highest price was £2.75 for Wylam Haugh Porter.

I popped in the Quaker House that weekend and was pleased Steve’s prices had risen only 10p a pint in 12 months. Always the cheapest real ale is to be had at the Glittering Star: just £1.41 for Sam Smith’s OBB; couldn’t miss that. Next was the Red Lion where the barmaid quoted me £2.15 for GK IPA (3.6%) but only £2 for Abbot Ale (5%). Later, when I ordered a half of Abbot I was charged £1.35, a third more than pro-rata; the IPA half price was £1.25. Remarkable.

Gordon accompanied me on several sorties, one of which included two ‘firsts’ for me. The Builders Arms was buzzing with customers; perhaps John Smith’s Cask at £1.80 a pint was the attraction. The Central Borough had Magnet at £2 and Morland’s Old Speckled Hen at £2.10. Several of our trips ended at Darlington Snooker Club, all priced at £2.20 and always a warm welcome.

Sheila came with me to some country pubs. The landlord at the Black Bull, Great Smeaton was very friendly and doing good trade with his three real ales (two of them guests) at £2.50 and £2.60. The demise of the neighbouring Bay Horse clearly benefited him.

On the same trip we spoke to the landlord of the Beeswing, East Cowton, who complained of the very poor service he had been getting from Punch Taverns. Another pub doing excellent business on the Sunday after Christmas.

Two days later we called on the Chequers at Dalton to discover two Jennings ales at £2.70 plus Banks’s Original at £2, a difference of 14 shillings. I went for the Banks’s. Thirty-six pubs and countless beers: was I glad to reach the end of the month.


Sheepish No More

BLACK SHEEP has come up with a bright idea: illuminated handpumps. The proudly traditional independent brewery has never shied away from innovation but felt that cask ale needed to strengthen its presence on bar counters increasingly dominated by the shiny lights of lager and keg fonts.

So it’s started installing handpumps for its Best Bitter made from zinc and chrome and illuminated by LED lighting. The Angram-made pump also incorporates a cooler to serve the beer at the right temperature.

Black Sheep managing director Paul Theakston said: “Hand pulls have always been silent heroes - full of great strengths and qualities, but not really noticed. We need to give our publicans good reason to take them out of the dark, quiet real ale corner and put them proudly centre stage.”


The Death of the Local ?

WITH THE increasingly onerous rise in tax on beer, more and more pubs are going under, in the unequal and unfair battle with supermarkets, writes John Clark .

Supermarket beer sales can be and are subsidised, to lure in punters who then purchase other more profitable items making up the loss. No such option is available to the publican, who must licence, maintain, furnish, heat and light a building, pay rates, provide toilets and pay staff, and provide all the paraphernalia for the purpose of alcohol sales.

As more people start their night out on subsidised plonk at home, they then go on to fall into the pubs and bars of our towns and cities already the worse for their unsupervised excess. Further imbibing then only makes matters worse - but they are now on the licensed premises of the publican, who cops all the blame, even though they may have drunk very little ‘on licence’.

When the licensee or his doormen call an end to this stupidity - all hell is let loose. Meanwhile the supermarket giants laugh all the way to the bank !. Welcome to Britain's barmy binge culture - fuelled through indifference, a refusal to see the light on the part of the authorities and the drive for profit before responsibility.

And what happens to the pubs ?. Quite simply, they become another statistic in the tale of the ‘Forgotten Public House’....

*THE DARLINGTON area has seen plenty of its own pub closures in recent years: Bridge Inn, Forge, Globe, Railway Hotel, Locomotive, Rise Carr, etc, etc. Do send memories and photos of your lost local to Darlington Drinker.


Black Sheep Quiz

BELOW ARE this month’s Black Sheep Quiz questions. The sender of the first correct answer drawn out of the hat on 23rd March will win a quality Black Sheep T-shirt from the Masham brewery.

Send your entry to DD Black Sheep Quiz, 6 Clareville Road, Darlington DL3 8NG or to dd@idnet.com. Include your name, address and shirt size: sorry, no size, no prize...

1, What was the average price of a pint of real ale around Darlington in December?

2, Who makes Black Sheep’s handpumps?

3, Darlington Winter Pub of the Season is?

Jason Crowther of Mowden, Darlington won the DD172 quiz and a large shirt. It was the Intelligent Choice report that said real ale sales are ‘moving towards growth’; they also said the beer market as a whole declined by 8%; SIBA stands for the Society of Independent Brewers (yes, the ‘A’ is superfluous).


Guide Updates

BELOW is a complete list of updates to Darlington CAMRA’s acclaimed full-colour beer and pub guide, Real Ale in and around Darlington & Teesdale, which we published last June.

You should still be able find a free copy next to this DD at many of our regular stockists. If not, contact the editor for a copy (contact details are as for DD editor on back page). Please continue to tell us of changes to the availability of cask beer in our area, whether good or bad news.



TAWNY OWL, Creebeck. Postcode is now DL2 1QE

BAY HORSE, Hurworth. Open 11-11 Mon-Sat, 12-10.30 Sun. www.thebayhorsehurworth.com


STANWICK INN, Aldbrough St John. Opening times are now 12-3 & 5.30-11pm (6.30-11 Sat, -10.30 Sun).

ANGEL, Gilling West. Only Black Sheep available at present.


GEORGE & DRAGON, Boldron. The area code is 01833.

STRATHMORE ARMS, Holwick. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

FOUR ALLS, Ovington. Tetley Bitter no longer available.




DARLINGTON RUGBY CLUB, Blackwell Meadows. No real ale at present.

BINNS, High Row. Sadly, only a handful of beers left.


SPOTTED DOG, High Coniscliffe. No real ale at present.


LORD NELSON, Appleton Wiske. No real ale at present.

BAY HORSE, Great Smeaton. Temporarily closed*.

 (*Temporarily closed pubs are those we believe the owning company is seeking a new tenant for. They could reopen at any time.)


LONGSTANDING members of Darlington’s Campaign for Real Ale were saddened to hear of the death, at 79, of Pat Kilfeather. Pat was the indomitable landlord of the Britannia for a quarter of a century to 1994. He was one of a tiny number of licensees in the area to stock real ale - in the fine form of Cameron’s Strongarm - at a time when others were serving nothing but keg beer. Under Pat, and his wife Amy, the Brit was one of just four of the town’s pubs to appear in CAMRA’s first truly-national Good Beer Guide in 1975. By the 1976 edition it was alone. Irishman Pat was quick on the draw, with regulars having their pint half-poured by the time they reached the bar. Some instantly-assessed visitors were less lucky, turned away with a wipe of the bar and a curt “I do not wish to serve you”. Even when they were friends of his own son, Tom...



Tue 10 Feb: Darlington CAMRA Branch Meeting: Hole in the Wall (upstairs room), Horsemarket, 8pm. All welcome.

Tue  3 Mar: Darlington CAMRA Branch Meeting: Glittering Star, Stonebridge, Darlington, 8pm. All welcome.

 Fri  6 Mar: Rural coach crawl: (Scorton/Dalton-on-Tees area). Departs Feethams 7pm, bookings: Pete Fenwick (01325) 374817; (07792) 093245.  

Thursday 12- Saturday 14 March: Darlington CAMRA Spring Thing 2009 Beer Festival: Arts Centre, Vane Terrace, Darlington. Darlington’s annual folk weekend, with the beer festival within a festival: over 50 cask ales, farmhouse ciders, classic foreign bottles and commemorative glasses. Free entry to beer hall all sessions. CAMRA helpers needed, including for set-up/dismantle Mon 9th /Sun 15th: contact Ian on (01325) 243228.  

Tue  7 Apr: Darlington CAMRA Annual General Meeting: Quaker House (upstairs room), Mechanics Yard, Darlington, 8pm. All local members please try to attend.  


Darlington Drinker is published every two or three months by the Darlington branch of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. Circulation 3,500. News, articles and letters welcome. All items © Darlington CAMRA but may be reproduced if source acknowledged. Editor: Brendan Boyle, 6 Clareville Road, Darlington DL3 8NG; (01325) 362092; email dd@idnet.com. Additional contributors this issue: John Clark, Malcolm Dunstone, Pete Fenwick, Ian Jackson. To advertise, contact Fred Lawton: email Lawtonfred@aol.com; (07710) 493514. Rates a snip at quarter-page £30, half page £50, full page £80; sixth consecutive insertion free. Branch website: www.darlocamra.org.uk. CAMRA HQ is at 230 Hatfield Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4LW; (01727) 867201; see www.camra.org.uk for all other real ale information.